by Jerry Elengical, Samta NadeemSep 23, 2021
Taking the form of a graceful pavilion in low-carbon aluminium, seemingly floating atop slender supports in a pool at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Between Forests and Skies by multidisciplinary design studio, Nebbia Works, heralds the dream of an eco-friendly, low-carbon future for aluminium production. Commissioned as part of the London Design Festival V&A hub, the immersive installation is a poignant reflection of the themes of circular design, sustainable processes, and materiality advocated as part of the London Design Festival 2021 programme of events - which includes the Shoreditch Design Triangle among other design districts - in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held later this year in Glasgow. In highlighting the unique durability, recyclability, and lightweight properties of aluminium, the pavilion’s surfaces craft a dazzling interplay of reflections that enliven the environment of the Victorian-era façade in its backdrop.
Brando Posocco, co-founder and director at Nebbia Works, relays in a press statement, that it was “an honour for them to have been selected for this prestigious commission for LDF, joining a legacy which includes Kengo Kuma, Frida Escobedo, and Zaha Hadid.” He adds, “As a studio, we are conscious of the provenance of the materials we specify and the agency we have as designers to advocate for low-carbon materials and manufacturing.” Nebbia Works was originally enlisted for the project by Meneesha Kellay, curator of Festival Programmes at the V&A Museum, alongside the En+ Group - one of the world’s largest independent producers of low-carbon aluminium and hydropower, based in Russia and the United Kingdom. The commission had called for a structure at the John Madejski Garden on the grounds of the V&A, that would illuminate the importance of low-carbon materials in a world pressed under the imposing threat of climate change.
Low-carbon aluminium in particular, has been noted for its versatility and durability, and to this end, the structure was fabricated with aluminium made using En+ Group’s inert anode technology, which is said to produce a thousand times less emissions than the industry average at present. As a further measure of the company’s commitment to being environmentally responsible, the manufacturing process was powered primarily by renewable electricity. A key feature of the design was the exploration of aluminium’s innate strength in crafting a freestanding structure with algorithmically-developed supports that exerts minimal imposition on its supporting surface. It extends Nebbia Works’ earlier explorations of creating razor-thin structural profiles in aluminium, through their Tighten Table Series, comprising household, display, and exhibition tables.
“Conceptually, we wanted to introduce character and romance into aluminium through physical manipulation, as the material can sometimes be perceived as mechanical, machined and cold,” states Madhav Kidao, co-founder and director of Nebbia Works. He elaborates, “We were keen to create a structure that encapsulates the feeling of precise irregularity, producing an environment composed of mechanically identical but spatially random components, emulating what we experience in the natural world.” Composed of a rectangular canopy with slender supports that peel away from the top surface to create openings, the pavilion employs a minimal volume of material for maximum effect. It transforms a rectangular 2D-plane into a forest-like space in 3D, through strategic cuts and distortions that create a seemingly delicate, yet structurally sound configuration.
Although it appears to be fabricated from a single sheet of metal, Between Forests and Skies is actually composed of 27 individual pieces of aluminium, spanning 13.5m x 9m, with a height just under 2.4m. To accommodate the museum’s loading requirements, each of the aluminium plates measures 3m x 1.5m x 0.02m. In order to ensure easy dismantling, transportation, and reassembly, the 27 constituent elements of the installation are bolted together by a variety of circular connection plates attached to the top surface.
Furthermore, all the structure’s ‘legs’ are waterjet cut-outs from individual sheets, pulled down to create perforations that allow views of the open sky into the pavilion’s interior. True to its name, the pavilion serves as an interface between the heavens and its support structure - accentuating the best features of both. The installation’s setting at the centre of the shallow pool also serves to enhance the lustrous qualities of its aluminium surfaces, which dictate a dance of light that plays out over the water’s surface throughout the course of each day. Kidao remarks, “The experience of the pavilion is a dreamlike state between the sky and the reflection of the sky; the world and the reflection of the world.”
As per the designers, the structure will be on view at the V&A till October 16, after which it will be smelted into aluminium ingots to be repurposed in other applications. Posocco concludes, “This project has been tracked from its extraction to production, manufacture and installation; it has been rewarding to work on a commission which explores the unique qualities and life cycle of one single material.” Decorating the premises of one of the most visited venues at the London Design Festival being hosted from September 18-26, Between Forests and Skies is a fitting monument to the boundless potential of environmentally-conscious design - shedding light on the dire need to manage global carbon footprints in industrial manufacturing processes.
Click here to read all about STIR at LDF, a STIR series on what to look out for at London Design Festival 2021.